The regular firearm season for deer hunting begins today and continues through Dec. 9, and Steve Hett of rural Marion is preparing to welcome friends from the coasts for a hunt.
Hett has been hunting most of his life, beginning with father-son rabbit hunts when he was young.
“I loved it,” he said. “That was a big thing for me to get to shoot a gun now and then.”
In the past four or five years, he’s gotten in the habit of taking a pair of brothers — one from Philadelphia, Pa., and the other from San Francisco, Calif. —on a deer hunt each winter. It works well for them to meet halfway, and it gives Hett a chance to see friends who he wouldn’t see much otherwise.
He also occasionally takes families hunting, sometimes with three generations of hunters.
“It’s quite exciting when you pull up and these kids are super thrilled,” Hett said.
They’ll often be high-fiving and hugging their fathers because they’re so happy about their first successful hunt.
“I’ve been there before,” Hett said. “I remember my first deer.”
It wasn’t until 1969, in his first year out of military service, that Hett shot his first deer. He’d never even seen a deer in Kansas before that day, because deer were much rarer in Kansas at that time.
His first deer had a broken rack of antlers, and it wasn’t very big.
“It sure looked big to me at the time, though,” he said. “It isn’t the size of the deer, it’s the size of the hunt.”
Hett said preparing to hunt deer is a year-round task. A hunter needs to scout places that have sufficient food, water, and cover to support deer, and that can change from year to year. When a suitable location is found, then a hunter needs to set up blinds and stands.
Deer now driving force in Kansas hunting
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism sells between 80,000 and 100,000 deer hunting permits of all types each year, spokesman Mike Miller said Monday.
Deer weren’t always the biggest draw for hunters to Kansas, though. Miller said pheasant and quail hunting was the biggest source of revenue for the department 25 years ago.
Miller said the shift to deer hunting happened because of changing game populations. Deer populations have surged in that time, owing a lot to the Conservation Reserve Program providing more suitable habitat for deer.
Deer populations, along with complaints of damage to crops and car accidents, have picked up since 2000, although they have stabilized in the past couple of years.
With the growth of deer populations, Kansas has become a favored destination for hunting whitetail deer, along with Iowa and Illinois, Miller said. Kansas has a quota of about 21,000 hunting permits for non-residents, and those sold out during the summer.
On Dec. 7, 1997, Jamie Remmers (now Jamie Shirley) shot a 34-point buck in Marion County that remains the women’s world record to this day.
“I knew it was one I could mount,” but didn’t know it was any kind of record, Shirley said Monday.
The buck scored 257 1/8 non-typical in the Boone & Crocket scoring system, the best ever by a woman, the best nationally in 1997, and still the fifth best in Kansas. The head mount is now on display at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo.